Racism Plays a Big Part in our Politics. Period.

If you haven’t read it, Ta-Nehisi Coates has a fantastic essay on Barack Obama’s relationship to race and racism in the latest issue of The Atlantic. There’s too much to quote, but this paragraph captures the thesis:

In a democracy, so the saying goes, the people get the government they deserve. Part of Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites. Any black person who’s worked in the professional world is well acquainted with this trick. But never has it been practiced at such a high level, and never have its limits been so obviously exposed. This need to talk in dulcet tones, to never be angry regardless of the offense, bespeaks a strange and compromised integration indeed, revealing a country so infantile that it can countenance white acceptance of blacks only when they meet an Al Roker standard.

The power and symbolism of Obama’s election is compromised by the extent to which his presidency has been shaped by white expectations and white racism. Obama can’t show anger, he can’t propose policies tailored to African Americans and he can’t talk about race. In other words, he can’t remind white Americans that their president is a black man as much as anything else.

At the risk of sounding cynical, I expect that Coates will inspire howls of unfairness from the right. It’s almost forbidden to discuss the role racism has played in shaping opposition to Obama. Conservatives dismiss such concerns as “playing the race card”—and use it as an opportunity to accuse liberals of racism—while more neutral commentators note that Bill Clinton also faced a rabid conservative opposition. But as Coates points out, no one called Clinton a “food stamp president” or attacked his health care plan as “reparations.” Local lawmakers didn’t circulate racist jokes about the former Arkansas governor, and right-wing provocateurs didn’t accuse Clinton of fomenting an anti-white race war.

Of course, race isn’t the reason conservatives oppose Obama, but it shapes the nature of their opposition. The right wing would have exploded against Hillary Clinton as well. But they wouldn’t have waged a three-year campaign to discredit her citizenship.

With that said, I’m honestly amazed that—for many people—it’s beyond the pale to accuse a political party of exploiting racism for political gain. We’re only 47 years removed from the official end of Jim Crow and the routine assassination of black political leaders. This year’s college graduates are the children of men and women who remember—or experienced—the race riots of the late 1960s and 70s. The baby boomers—including the large majority of our lawmakers—were children when Emmett Till was murdered, teenagers when George Wallace promised to defend segregation in perpetuity, and adults when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed for his belief in the humanity of black people.

Five and a half million Americans are 85 or older. In the years they were born—assuming the oldest is 110 (several thousand Americans fit that bill)—1,413 African Americans were lynched. And that’s a rough estimate; the number is almost certainly higher. For nearly a third of our country’s history, this was a common occurence:

Interracial marriage was illegal in large swaths of the country when Barack Obama Sr. married Ann Dunham.

Mitt Romney was 31 when the Church of Latter Day Saints allowed African American priests, and repudiated early leader Brigham Young’s pronouncement that “The Lord had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood.”

Nancy Pelosi grew up in segregated Baltimore.

Mitch McConnell was sixteen when his high school admitted its first black students.

Of course there are politicians and political parties that capitalize on racism. Why wouldn’t they? The end of our state-sanctioned racial caste system is a recent event in our history; more recent than Medicare or Medicaid, more recent than the advent of computers, more recent than the interstate highway system, and more recent than Social Security. Taken in the broad terms of a nation’s life, we’re only a few weeks removed from the widespread acceptance of white supremacy.

Race remains a potent way to activate voters and motivate them to the polls—see Mitt Romney’s current campaign against Obama’s fictional attack on welfare. To believe otherwise—and to see this country as a place that’s moved past its history—is absurd.

Comments

Great post, Jamelle. I appreciate that you're ignoring the desperate attempts by the radical right to silence lefties on issues of race and on the racist attacks on our President. I've done the same with our page "Not Racist?" over at All Things Democrat, though the deniers still complain of racism or evade the issue. It seems incredible to me that when faced with the racist imagery and statements made by their fellow conservatives, no one steps forward to condemn it. They pass on the opportunity to attract more independents in a close presidential race and choose to deny and evade the issue. Its as inexplicable as the Republican war on women and anti-immigrant laws in Arizona and the deep south. Without women and minorities, they'll have to rely on cheating, through voter suppression, intimidation, and election fraud. But I compare the GOP's old white men's club like the final years of Apartheid in South Africa; it can only last so long.

"Race remains a potent way to activate voters and motivate them to the polls"
That cuts both ways and is the basis for most of the conservative distaste for statements that equate objections to Obama's policies with segregation or pictures of lynchings. Make people fear that Romney will persecute blacks, latinos, and women and maybe they'll vote for President Obama despite their very rational misgivings over his failure to do anything about the truly frightening national debt.

It wasn't long ago that the Democratic party was the party of slavery and jim crow. Coates even mentions Senator Byrd, who had been a dyed-in-the-wool Klansman, yet he characterizes Byrd as a man who atoned for his sins by promoting liberal causes for years. The man filibustered the civil rights act in '64 if I'm not mistaken. He should have atoned by publicly apologizing on a daily basis. Things like that make it a bit tough to swallow the claim that race isn't used, or ignored, just as cynically by the left as by the right. And didn't it give you the willies, just a little bit, when Herman Cain was taken down by accusations of being a sexual predator, and finally of stalking a white woman? I have no idea as to Cain's guilt or innocence, but do you think there would have been such a deafening silence about the use of such a familiar race-baiting gambit had Cain been a liberal Democrat? I'm just suggesting that you consider for a moment that branding the GOP as a racist entity does not hold water as political analysis, though it's very effective for political fundraising.

I have a dream that someday all men will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. FEW people judge men by the color of their skin, yes that includes Conservatives and Republicans, but they DO by the content of their character. It is up to the parents today to teach their kids the lessons necessary for their children to have the character worthy of everyones respect.

Racism has been very prominent since Obama started to run though many of his speeches and actions tried to illustrate otherwise. The racism is not only in the Republican and/or the "independents" but with most Democrats--esp those from the Midwestern states. The Tea Party groups as exceptionally so and this has been obvious from the beginning. They are mostly folks that didn't vote but also didn't expect Obama to succeed. Then when he continued Bush's TARP and other bank and financial programs to try to keep the financial part of our economy going, they were up in arms. The news outlets, esp FOX NEWS, made hay with these actions and the supposed reduction or removal of Social Security and/or Medicare. Neither were in the actions but Fox said so along with their statements regarding "Death Panels" once the health bill was being hammered out. Those committees were a suggestion of the Republicans despite the fact they voted it down later. All these items were racially tainted since not only would whites get assistance from the government but also minorities and the poor. Neither of these groups were good enough in the eyes of most Tea Partiers or Republicans. They also had no time to gather in these groups and get all excited about "what if" situations that never happened but they seemed to think they would or FOX NEWS mentioned their "possibility." Most Tea Partiers are from small white towns and very few of them have had any close relationships as friends or neighbors with people of color from anywhere, esp. not black Americans nor the very poor that huddle in bigger cities and supposedly are there of their own desires and laziness. The lynching shown and most others that took place were outside small towns and though a good percentage of them were in the South or Texas, a few were in the North--esp. Indiana. Racism may not be as prevalent as it used to be but it is there hidden and denied but still present. A form of racism will always be but it is not just that of white on black or white on color but black on white or on other blacks of various shades and ethnicity with varying shades of skin color mixed with religion and/or nationality. But we can all work more at lessening our prejudices and not judge others we don't know just because they appear different that each of us do. But then money is also a factor but not in the Tea Partiers as much as the rich vs middle class vs poor. That too covers all colors.

So what do you call it when blacks won't vote for the most qualified person because he/she is white. I know, black racism. As a percentage of the relevant population there is, I would venture, a larger percentage of blacks who hate whites than whites who hate blacks. That's probably also true about blacks and gays compared to whites and gays.

On a more serious note - thank God those pre 80s racist days are rapidly coming to an end, thanks in large part to a concerted effort and sacrifice by a vast majority of the white population. Fortunately JB is wrong his fabricated white racism no longer motivates the base; neither the Dems nor the GOP.
JB shuldn't waste his time writing, he could spend his time equally well urinating in a river.

So what do you call it when blacks won't vote for the most qualified person because he/she is white. I know, black racism.

Its called a "straw man". Its something you've dreamed up in your racist little mind. You'll never find a quote by a black person saying they didn't vote for a qualified person because he/she is white, but it must be true because you believe it, right?

Racism was on its way out before the Tea Party and the revival of the radical right. Now there are Republican governors and legislators passing bills to suppress the vote in areas with minority populations. In Michigan, the governor's new emergency powers were used to take over Benton Harbor, 92% black, under the guise of helping them. But then the governor seized most of the Jean Klock park, which was deeded to the city on the condition that it remain a park forever to provide a place for black families to enjoy themselves, only to be leased to private developers to build a golf course. They also closed 4 schools in Benton Harbor, because who on the right cares about the student-to-teacher ratio in poor black areas? And then you have someone like Paul Ryan who plans to cut support of programs that affect poor minorities while giving more tax breaks to the rich. And then there are those on the right who just can't help being openly racist, like these fools. Yes, thank God racism is coming to an end.

I don't know how "brilliant" it is to note the obvious.

I think the bigger question is why Obama sought to reach out to African-Americans via Al Sharpton, whom he pointedly embraced about a year ago, leading to Sharpton being offered a spot on MSNBC, with the coda that he would never critcize the Obama. An odd move for a man who has gone out of his way to not offend Caucasian sensibilities, that Sharpton is one of the people who offends Caucasian sensibilities most. Stranger still that the right has not seemed to take notice, given that it's fertile ground for Obama bashing.

That race is a component of everything that happens in America and there remains a refusal empower or even acknowledge that African-Americans have a right to any power in America, in any substantial way goes way, beyond Obama. Dinkins was roundly rejectected by New Yorkers, for the racist, Republican Giuliani, who participated in a racist police rant prior to his election, during which that African-american police chief and Dinkins were called N*ggers, in the most liberal city in America. There hasn't been an African-American with a chance to be mayor since. Obama's ascension is a fluke, not soon to be repeated, not matter how inoffensive the next African-American man or women.

I don't know how "brilliant" it is to note the obvious.

I think the bigger question is why Obama sought to reach out to African-Americans via Al Sharpton, whom he pointedly embraced about a year ago, leading to Sharpton being offered a spot on MSNBC, with the coda that he would never critcize the Obama. An odd move for a man who has gone out of his way to not offend Caucasian sensibilities, that Sharpton is one of the people who offends Caucasian sensibilities most. Stranger still that the right has not seemed to take notice, given that it's fertile ground for Obama bashing.

That race is a component of everything that happens in America and there remains a refusal empower or even acknowledge that African-Americans have a right to any power in America, in any substantial way goes way, beyond Obama. Dinkins was roundly rejectected by New Yorkers, for the racist, Republican Giuliani, who participated in a racist police rant prior to his election, during which that African-american police chief and Dinkins were called N*ggers, in the most liberal city in America. There hasn't been an African-American with a chance to be mayor since. Obama's ascension is a fluke, not soon to be repeated, not matter how inoffensive the next African-American man or women.

You're the only one who used the word "brilliant", so who are you quoting?

Regarding the race issue, the dinosaur in the American political living room, I'm leaving South Carolina in October for Puerto Rico. We moved to SC in 2009 in the hopes of educating about multiculturalism. When I proudly told neighbors I was here to fight against racism, my days were counted. After threats with a ring of fire surrounding our property and that our pets would be killed--the confederate neighborhood saw my Puerto Rican husband and me, an Irish-Ukranian mix, as an interracial couple--we decided to move to a more diverse state.
A friend down here can remember when her uncles feared walking through the neighborhood, since the likelihood of them being arrested for loitering was so high, and loitering could ultimately be punished with lynching.
Although I try to not use the word because I don't believe in its concept, race relations, as well as gender, sexual orientation, religious, etc., have been corroding since the George W. Bush era, and IMO, will only worsen as the economic and political conditions continue to deteriorate.

You need to be logged in to comment.
(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)

Connect
, after login or registration your account will be connected.
Advertisement